Centre Stage: Finding Canada's Next Opera Star
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Centre Stage: Finding Canada’s Next Opera Star

Is the Canadian Opera Company looking to draw a younger crowd?

We all know that opera is an art form stereotypically enjoyed by the elder generations. But here’s a question—does one begin to enjoy opera more as one ages, or is this a genre only understood by those who live in a certain time, and will die along with them? Perhaps aiming to prevent this grim fate, the Canadian Opera Company are emulating the reality TV shows that declare the best in everything from song and dance to modelling, cooking and fashion design with their Centre Stage show and competition.

Asking, “who will be Canada’s next opera star?”, the COC auditioned 120 young vocalists from across the country, paring the list down to 8 finalists who each performed one piece in front of a packed Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts last night. The top three choices—Emily D’Angelo, Lauren Eberwein, and Bruno Roy—were awarded with $5000, $3000, and $1500 respectively, and will be considered for membership into the company’s prestigious Ensemble Studio.

The aim of the competition is to introduce rising local stars to the Canadian opera community, while providing them an opportunity to perform on the world stage. While the marketing and setup of the show was Idol-esque, complete with keypads with which the audience could vote on their favourite performance, the youthful vibe ended there. Amongst a sea of silver hair and fancy wear, only a few young faces could be spotted, and judging by the spirited cheering that erupted for certain performances, it was clear that these attendees were friends and family of the competitors. At $100 per ticket ($35 for those under 30), or $1500 for the dinner and show deal, this event doesn’t quite register on the list of cheap Tuesday night date ideas.

But should opera lower its brow in order to woo younger generations, or a more widespread audience? Certainly, crossover stars like Charlotte Church, and Josh Groban have popularized the genre by infusing it with pop. Toronto’s own Katie Stelmanis takes opera in a new direction with her band Austra, combining her childhood training with dark electro beats and provocative lyrics. Groban in particular has proven that he’s “with it” despite his music being for an older crowd, appearing in a number of humorous videos over the years. The truth is, young opera singers can only benefit from demonstrating that they are just like their “regular” peers, something exemplified by Centre Stage hosts—and former winners—Karine Boucher and Charles Sy. Chasing the stuffiness from the room, they brought a humorous and personable approach to the evening. Speaking on his pre-game rituals, Charles revealed that before his performance at last year’s competition, he walked into the first McDonalds he saw after dress rehearsal, ordered a tea, and sat by himself in a corner playing Pokemon on his phone for three hours.

Luckily, the Canadian Opera Company understands that it’s better to inspire interest, rather than force it, and steered clear of cheesy attempts to win over the young crowd with this event. Not to say they don’t try at all—they bring productions on an extensive tour of Ontario schools every year, and provide the general public with numerous opportunities to check out their programming by offering a wide array of free lunchtime and evening concerts at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. However, whether or not opera will catch on as the next hipster craze remains to be seen.